Any woman with endometriosis will tell you that it’s an extremely painful condition. Those who suffer from it describe the pain as debilitating, stabbing, and crushing—so severe that they can only lie in bed with a heating pad until the pain subsides.
Endometriosis is a disorder in which the endometrial tissue lining your uterus migrates outside of the uterus and may be found throughout your abdomen, around your ovaries, and in your pelvic cavity. What makes endometriosis so painful is that even though the tissue is outside of your uterus, it responds to menstrual cycle hormones just like the uterine lining does. It builds up and sheds off, just like the tissue and menstrual blood inside your uterus, but the wayward tissue has no exit from your body, creating a painful condition of internal bleeding, inflammation, pressure, and an extreme amount of pain.
Almost one in ten women of childbearing age struggle with endometriosis. The consequences of this condition can be life-altering. Loss of function and days lost from work are a common occurrence for women with endometriosis. Furthermore, the risk of infertility is high for these patients, with between 30 to 50 percent of women with endometriosis being unable to conceive.
How Can It Be Treated?
Currently there is no cure for endometriosis, so treatments are geared toward easing symptoms. Traditional treatments for this condition include pain medications and hormones to block your menstrual cycle, however both strategies don’t always affect the pain and they may come with undesirable side-effects. If first line treatments haven’t worked, surgery is also an option, in which lesions and scar tissue is cauterized or removed. While surgery can be effective in the short term, in many cases regrowth of tissue occurs with a return of symptoms.
In Chinese medicine, endometriosis is considered to be a problem with flow. Good health is always dependent of the movement of substances throughout your body, such as the blood in your vessels, food in your digestive tract, and chemical impulses throughout your nervous system. When it comes to your menstrual cycle, the need for appropriate flow is clear. However in the case of endometriosis, flow is obstructed causing blockage, pain, and inflammation. Practitioners of Chinese medicine call this condition Blood Stasis, and its hallmark symptom is fixed and stabbing pain.
Many women who have turned to acupuncture to treat their endometriosis have found it to be an effective alternative or adjunct to traditional treatments. Research on the effectiveness of Chinese medicine in the treatment of endometriosis has documented that a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be as effective as hormones in treating this condition. Other researchers have found that acupuncture can decrease endometrial pain, balance hormones, and control the growth and spread of endometrial tissue.
For many women with endometriosis, controlling the pain is crucial to their quality of life. Acupuncture offers a natural way to control that pain in a couple of ways. It ramps up the opioid-like pain relief system in your brain and changes your brain chemistry in a way that blocks the transmission of incoming pain signals. Acupuncture also increases the circulation of feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain, called endorphins, which elevate mood, decrease stress, and help regulate pain.
In addition to acupuncture, your practitioner of Chinese medicine has a number of tools to help treat your endometriosis. They may incorporate herbs, dietary therapy, stress relief strategies, electro-acupuncture, and heat therapy into your treatment plan.
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Dr. Filiz Bakir is a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine. She is also the medical director and founder of Thrive Wellness Center with offices in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, FL.